Voters, not politicians, will choose the future alignments of British politics

That’s the theme of the article I’ve done for the IPPR’s quarterly journal which has a series of articles looking at political realignment, including Nick Boles making a pitch for the centre-right.

It’s Parliamentary arithmetic which predominantly determines what options are actually open to politicians. That matters far more than any personal preferences of senior politicians, so the choices that are made are shaped far more by the results of what voters do than by what politicians might prefer:

Mark Pack IPPR articleThe voters have a habit of making fools of those who make political predictions, even those (and perhaps particularly those) who make long-term predictions … So enthusiastically confident predictions about the long-term future of this coalition government – less than one year old and yet to face a national electoral test of any sort – tell you more about the self-confidence of those making the predictions than they do about the likely course of future events.

What is safe to say is that politicians have a remarkable (and, in many ways, very welcome) ability to adjust to the political numbers that the voters, unwittingly or deliberately, set for them. Not only in Westminster, but also in devolved bodies and in local government, the previous decades have seen all sorts of unlikely combinations when the hard numbers of seats for each party have required it. Overseas we have even witnessed the two main parties in coalition with each other, as with Germany’s ‘grand coalitions’…

Even a successful Coalition Government will most likely leave future Labour / Lib Dem co-operation looking plausible and so the power to decide will, once again, firmly rest in the hands of voters. Cross-party discussion in the meantime may prepare the ground to make future co-operation more likely to be successful, but its existence or not will be a matter for the ballot box, not think tank publications. That may be unsettling for politicians and exciting for political observers but it is also fundamentally democratic – as it should be. Voters, not politicians, will decide the future shape of politics.

Both the full article and the edition of the journal are available for purchase online. The full content is not available for free online, but I’ve written about how Nick Boles’s argument for a centre-right alignment does, or doesn’t, stand up in my review of his book Which Way’s Up?

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